WASHINGTON (CNS) — Thinking green is not easy. Nor is it always cheap.
But for St. Michael Parish in Poway, California, north of San Diego, parishioners are already seeing the benefits — spiritual, financial and environmental — of a $1.3 million investment in a solar panel system.
In the year since the panels were installed on several buildings across the 26-acre church property, the parish has seen its electricity costs fall by more than 75 per cent to about $5,000 a month from $20,000 to $22,000 monthly, said Rev. John Dolan, pastor. At the current rate, the system will pay for itself within six years, he said.
What’s better, Dolan told Catholic News Service, is that parishioners know that their church is part of a planet-wide movement in response to Pope Francis’ year-old encyclical, Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home, that calls upon everyone to better care for God’s creation and one another.
“People are buying into this,” Dolan said, explaining how topics on the environment and sustainability come up in parish conversations, even during coffee-and-doughnut gatherings after Sunday mass. “We have to think on a global level. This is no longer just a regional thing. We have to reach into this call to stewardship. We have dominion over the world and not domination.”
The publication of the encyclical last June 18 helped boost the Diocese of San Diego’s recommendation that all parishes install solar power systems. With 98 parishes and 89 schools, the effort is more than symbolic. The diocese reported that more than 50 entities are seeking bids on solar projects or solar power purchase agreements.
San Diego is not alone in embracing the pope’s call to dialogue and action cited in the encyclical. Catholic organizations around the world have formed study groups, planted gardens, written broad action plans to reduce energy and water consumption, developed curricula and produced webinars to bring the principles Pope Francis expresses in Laudato Si’ to life.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta has adopted a wide-ranging action plan that touches every aspect of church life. It identifies steps such as ridding the chancery of plastic foam cups and bowls, teaching catechists about the document, retreats on sustainability, workshops on developing a parish garden and helping people that their buying habits matter, said Kat Doyle, archdiocesan director of justice and peace ministries.
“The reason we came up with an action plan is because nothing is going to change if we don’t take action,” Doyle explained.
The Atlanta plan has caught the eye of Jacqui Remond, national director of Catholic Earthcare Australia. She has submitted it to the country’s bishops and archbishops, encouraging them to adopt a similar plan for the country’s 28 dioceses and archdioceses.
Such a plan can be the basis for formation of people in how they see their role on the planet, Remond told CNS.
“It’s a whole agenda of work that’s been handed to us in Laudato Si’. We have clarity of purpose, a sense of direction and guiding principles and charisms in terms to take this forward,” she said.
During the last year, Australian parishes and schools have integrated “green” practices into everyday life to reduce energy consumption and parishioners are talking with each other about how to respond to the pope’s document.
In Ireland, the Catholic aid agency Trocaire has taken the encyclical to parish justice and peace groups and schools in an attempt to build awareness and action in response to it. In a commentary on the document available to parishes, Trocaire explains how people of faith have a responsibility to minimize their contribution to climate change and understand how the phenomenon affects the world’s poorest people.
Contributing to this report in Washington were Colleen Dulle, Ana Franco-Guzman, Allana Haynes and Nicolette Paglioni.